- Jez Bragg
- Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!
Sunday, 4 December 2011
Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Tuesday, 8 November 2011
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
The training I put in for Western States and UTMB earlier in the year was tough, and both races fell relatively close together, so I decided the best way to get ready for the final part of the season was to take some proper time out. There were several aims for the time out period, but the key ones were allowing a little time for a small ankle niggle to heal properly, giving my legs a proper rest from running and to do some quality cross training/ conditioning work as primary training rather than secondary. Well you didn’t think it would be complete rest did you?
|Snowdon, from the Watkins path - 28/09|
|View from Snowdon ascent - looking WSW - 28/09|
Friday, 16 September 2011
Maybe it was just me, but the traditionally emotional build-up at the start of the race seemed to be slightly more muted this year, perhaps due to the strong sense of the runners just wanting to get going after waiting around all day and evening. But eventually, we did. The traditional stampede out of Chamonix was stronger than ever, many runners charging out at sub 6 min/ mile pace, at the start of a 100+ mile race. Nuts. I went out pretty quickly too, but it was conservative in comparison, settling in at around 30th place along the wide trail through the woods paralleling the river, down valley to Les Houches. There is always a huge sense of relief in actually getting going in these big races – runners aren’t very good at sitting around tapering and resting before a race – but the sense of relief seems to be on another level with UTMB, probably due to it’s scale and the massive build-up which always comes with it. As one of the The North Face guys said to Lizzy and I as we were walking to start “it’s ok, you can just run now!”. That just about summed it up.
I started the valley bottom section from Saint Gervais to Les Contamines running with Nick Clarke and Stuart Mills, but again I wanted some space so we were leap frogging each other before Nick pulled away and Stuart dropped back. The rain started to ease so I planned a clothing change at Les Contamines, as well as a decent replen on my food supplies as it would be the last time I would see my crew until Cormayeur some 47km later. I arrived in Les Contamines (31km) in good spirits and just a few minutes behind my planned schedule. I took a pit stop of a couple of minutes, changing into a base layer with vest over, stashing the jacket and grabbing some bars and gels. And off again…..
The vistas from the top of Arete Mont Favre (69km, 2,435m) were the best yet - by this time we were now in direct sunlight to help warm us through properly. The singletrack contouring around to the Cormayeur ski area was smooth and fast flowing. Kaburaki lead the way, I was a couple of hundred metres back. We overtook Vincent Delebarre before arriving at Col Checroit where I looked forward to the chance to say a quick in-passing ‘hello’ to Jacquemot, the legendary owner of this wonderful mountain refuge. Again, no time to hang around, just a short (5km, 750m - it’s all relative with UTMB) descent to the first major checkpoint at Cormayeur, Italy, where I knew my crew would be waiting.
The first benefit of the delayed race start manifested itself on the cobbled high street in Cormayeur. A compere introduced me and plenty of passers by shouted encouragement. 9am this time, compared to 4-5am normally, makes a big difference to numbers! I ran the road climb up to the base of the next major climb, a nice 800m vertical slog up to Refuge Bertone (82km). I was strong on the climb, hitting the top in just over an hour from Cormayeur – pretty good going. I hadn’t had sight of any other runners for a while now, however as I continued on along the contouring trail heading up the side of the stunning Val Ferret, I just caught the odd glimpse now and again of Kaburaki doing battle with another runner ahead. Kaburaki seemed to be pushing it fairly hard however the buffer between us remained the same and we both gained a couple of places as I moved up to 13th by Arnuva (95km).
Saturday, 27 August 2011
My breathing became increasingly laboured to the point at which running downhill had me working as if I was running steeply up. Not good. Endeavoured to soldier on but got to the point where I was in danger of starving my body of oxygen and doing proper damage, so pulled the plug soon out of Champex. I think I was in 12th at the time, had been working my way through the field in my usual style all race and legs felt good enough to be striking higher positions.
Just back from a precautionary trip to the hospital - managed to avoid the overnight stay which they seemed quite keen on!.....
Thanks for all the support from everyone, very touching.
Friday, 26 August 2011
A sound decision by the organisers in my opinion, particularly given that it was made mid morning Friday, allowing the runners plenty of time to adjust their pre-race schedules.
And with that, I'm off to bed.....
Also worth noting that Eurosport are covering the race this year, with a half hour summary programme due to go out at 11.30pm ish on Sunday night. You may even see me being interviewed :o)
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Follow this link.
There is heaps of other pre-race coverage on the web and a good set of pre-race interviews with the elites from irunfar here.
Lots of talk around town about the new mandatory kit requirements and the weight it's going to add to our packs. I've just put my full race kit together and have managed to fit it all into TNF's Enduro 13 pack - the same one I wore last year. No big deal in my opinion and with the forecast as it is, a very good thing.
Just about to head out to collect race number one at check in. Eeeek!....
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
Maybe I’m being a little unfair on myself - I did actually write a piece about my Western States experience for British magazine Running Fitness, however it was specifically written for the general running community and therefore probably contains less of the nitty gritty stuff which blog readers are probably interested in. Anyway, once the magazine article is published I shall post it here and you can decide for yourself.
What about the detail then? Well I may consign that to the murky depths of history in the back of my head because I’m not sure I’ve got the will to dig it out right now. Alternatively, buy me a beer after the UTMB race.
I guess the least I can do is muster up a few summary thoughts……
Firstly, as with my 2009 experience, I absolutely loved every moment of Western States this year. Hats off to the WS team for putting on such a brilliant race, perfectly tuned to deliver the best possible experience for the runners. It's slick, it's exciting, it's professional and its got to be cream of the crop in the US.
My race strategy was fairly plain to see; run steadily throughout, at my pace, on my own if necessary, then try to do some damage in the latter stages. None of that is much of a secret, it’s how I bring out the best in myself and it’s the way I have run my best races. It was all perfectly to plan until mile 80/ the Green Gate aid station, at which point I couldn't maintain the pace to enjoy battling it out with the three other guys to the finish. That was a real frustration because I was running completely within myself up to that point and there was just a couple of minutes separating the four of us at the front (Jornet, Wolfe, Clarke & Bragg). A couple of months of reflection has allowed me to pin point the reasons for that blip (I think). I won't bore you with all the detail but needless to say I've made some changes to bring about improvements.
Reading this you've probably gathered I wasn't all that pleased with the 4th place. I was pleased with the time (albeit the revised course was a fast one), but I was targeting better (as I am sure many other guys were). The annoying thing is I'll probably have to go back next year now. Oh, what a shame....
So, what have I been up to since? Heaps of UTMB specific training which has been a lot of fun. Any excuse to get into the mountains hey. I was in the UK to start with, spending a few days running round the Bob Graham Round route in the Lake District, north west England. The BG is classic British long distance challenge, a big loop of around 72 miles taking in 42 of the highest peaks in the Lakes, with a total elevation change of c. 27,000feet. Being only a week after Western States, and the first time I’m been round any of the route before, I split it into three days and stayed overnight at a couple of hostels. The opportunity to get out in the stunningly beautiful Lakes and check out the route for the first time was magical. Definitely one to come back to for a non-stop effort in the future.....
Shortly afterwards I headed out to the Alps for two weeks of bigger stuff which involved a fast pack of the Walkers' Haute Route - Chamonix to Zermatt (c.185km, 14,000m+/-), a three day loop over the full UTMB course (166km, 9,400+/-) with the rest of The North Face team and a load of other single day outings. Back on UK soil I also did my annual Snowdon reps session (4x) in lashing rain (which obviously falls sideways being in Wales) and a night run on the coast path from Shell Bay, Poole to Weymouth. Basically, lots of good stuff in the bag, but more importantly a load of nicely varied and very enjoyable trail running. All I would say looking back on all those outtings is that the rain seemed to follow me wherever I went. I recon around 50% of my training this summer has been on wet days. Sorry in advance to fellow UTMBers if I’ve brought it with me to Chamonix….
So then, I hear there is a little race on this weekend?! I can't quite believe it's that time again. It is of course the big dance in Chamonix, The North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. From a quick scan of the entrants list it looks like we've got the deepest ever field lining up (yawn, yes I know, said many times before, but by some margin in my mind). Predictions? No way - impossible. The safest bet is there will be a big battle from the off and probably quite a few big name casualties based on the last few races here.
This is now my 5th time at UTMB, and I've yet to pull, so number one priority has got to be getting to the finish line for 5 out of 5. Whilst I've never run a fast time on the full route, my experience from previous races, at least the same number of training loops and the fact I've improved quite a bit as a runner over the last couple of years, will (hopefully) stand me in good stead.
Whilst there is probably more hype than I like before a race with UTMB (we runners just like to run….), the excitement and general build-up all contribute towards making this the truly great race it is. Chamonix, the mountain haven for so many different sports, is an incredible place to hang out, particularly with all the international runners in town.
Whether you're at home following on the internet, out on the course supporting with your cowbell or running one the races yourself – I hope you ENJOY this weekend’s races.
Sunday, 26 June 2011
Friday, 24 June 2011
I was hoping to have posted some detailed pre race thoughts but with limited internet access where we're staying at Lake Tahoe I've been forced to keep quiet. Perhaps not a bad thing.
From what I've picked up there has been quite a lot of hype about the race and the deep fields lined up for both men and women. I'm excited to be part of the race, but not really too bothered about the other guys, I will only be concerned with what I can personally control, that's my running and my performance.
So with my drop bags packed, GB badge sown on shorts and glycogen stores bursting, it's time to race!
Follow via the official race webcast linked from www.ws100.com , or via twitter using #ws100 or #irunfar as the search hashtags.
Race starts at 5am US west coast time Saturday 25th, or 1pm GMT same day.
Thanks for the messages of support - much appreciated.
Sunday, 12 June 2011
So just two weeks after a hard workout at The Highland Fling in Scotland I found myself toeing the start line of another epic, The Fellsman. I’m the first to admit that two big races in two weeks was a tall order, but I’d like to think a carefully calculated one.
These were ‘B’ races for me, planned as part of my build up to two ‘A’ races this summer; The Western States 100 on 25 June and UTMB in late August. My ‘B’ classification of these two races doesn’t mean I don’t take them seriously or put less than 100% effort in - I struggle to do anything less in a race – but is perhaps more from a mental perspective. Essentially I don’t let myself lose sleep over them and probably don’t taper all that much either. The goals further ahead are more important. The aim is to get race pace intensity into my legs and build some confidence in my ability to compete and race full stop, particularly after some lengthy periods of just training and racing shorter distances.
In it's 49th year, The Fellsman is one of the classics on the fell and ultra calendar. It's a truly British race - for the characteristics you will hear about in this piece - and I absolutely love it. The route is around 60miles - depending exactly which one you take (the choice is yours, it’s a point-to-point self navigation race) - in an almighty horseshoe shaped route starting in Ingleton and finishing in Threshfield, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.
The route is largely untracked and in quite a few places is knee-deep marsh or bog, sometimes making it more of a trudge rather than a run. For any American or European readers who like a nicely groomed singletrack trail - this is definitely not the race for you…..
Given the possible trail and weather conditions competitors must carry a set of basic safety kit and equipment which includes full waterproofs, emergency food, map, compass, first aid kit, survival bag, spare clothing, head torch etc etc. This necessitates a fairly sizeable pack which also adds to the challenge. See the photo below for my pre-race kit laid out. I used the Spring 11 The North Face Enduro 13 pack which I absolutely love.
As I stood on the start line with the other 400 or so competitors, 9am on a late spring Saturday morning, I was admittedly anxious about the day ahead. It would surely be epic; it always is?
I trotted up to the top of Ingleborough with Mark Hartell, 11 times (did I count right?) winner of the event, and we chatted about this, that and the other – generally putting the world to rights. At the top, next to the trig point, was the first of 24 checkpoints, the majority of which are located on the tops like this one. There I got my plastic tally card punched for the first time (who needs electronic chips?), the very traditional but completely effective method of checking participants have visited all the checkpoints, and quickly moved on on. The Fellsman tally card
Mark flew off from the top, taking a very direct line down a greasy rock strewn grassy bank where he showed off his fine descending skills. I followed, but slightly more cautiously. By the run off at the bottom, on the approach to the Hill Inn checkpoint, I had just about reeled him in, but this burst proved to be his undoing, as he tweaked his hamstring which ultimately forced his retirement a couple of checkpoints later at Kingsdale.
Re-fuelling near Kingsdale
By Kingsdale I was in the lead but close behind was Andy Mouncey and Adam Perry, a very talented youngster who had a strong race. I didn’t really look back thereafter, my focus being on running my own race at a pace which felt right to me. If I’m honest, that’s the way I prefer it. Without really consciously trying I started to build a lead that steadily grew over the course of the day.
I enjoyed the solo front running. If it hadn’t been for the checkpoints and occasional supporters then I might have forgotten there was a race on at all!
There was a stiff westerly cross wind, particularly noticeable on the beautiful high level ridge section between Gregareth and Great Coum, but after the turn east to head down towards Dent, it was welcome tail wind for the rest of the day. I felt like I was being swept along……
Dent is one of the bigger checkpoints about 20miles in and at that point, one third into the race, I felt great and very positive. I had also made good time, so started to map out in my head a possible schedule for the remainder. From rudimentary calculations in my head I was on track for sub-ten hours - assuming no slowing down – however there was obviously quite a bit of optimism in that calculation as unfortunately it’s often not quite as simple as that in events like this. Having said that, I have pulled off even or negative splits plenty of times before, so I didn’t think it was completely out the question.
The section from Dent to Stone House went smoothly, I even hit the line off Blea Moor perfectly for the first time ever (its one of the simpler 'lines', but I've never hit the stile into the woods quite right before). At Stone House there was plenty of excitement amongst the checkpoint staff who were running a sweepstake for the time of the first runner. I was about a minute too early apparently. Ooops, sorry. There I wolfed down a bit of plain pasta and grabbed a cheese butty for take out.
For the most part it was all rather uneventful. The all important navigation kept me focused, which I was constantly aware could have screwed up my race if mistakes had been made. Thankfully the visibility on the tops was much better than the last time I took part in 2009.
I hit a good line off Dodd Fell and arrived at Fleet Moss starting to feel a bit jaded but still in good time and maintaining a good pace. I wish I had my splits to share but unfortunately my watch splits messed up. Beyond the Fleet Moss checkpoint is the trickiest section for navigation across the featureless moor (bog?), and even more so this year from a last minute change to the location of the Middle Tongue checkpoint. Usually it’s on the peak next to the trig point, this year it was further south and out of sight due to landowner access issues. This also forced us to follow the southern route variant from Fleet Moss, rather than the direct line across the top. In the main this suited me well as it’s my favoured option anyway, being smoother and more runnable, albeit slightly longer.
I hit the new checkpoint at Middle Tongue without a problem, although I was saved slightly by one of the checkpoint staff being stood up as I approached. I may have struggled to pick out their small khaki green tent otherwise. But on arrival my anxieties had faded. That was the big risk for me, but once successfully negotiated, I knew I was in control of the rest.
It was a single bearing from the new Middle Tongue to Hell Gap which, although long, rough and untracked, was fairly fool proof. I blasted down the vehicle track to Cray and felt a lot more relaxed and confident about finishing in a good time. The real problem I had in trying to keep tabs on progress was not knowing the checkpoint split distances. All I knew was that Fleet Moss was at about 36miles (approximately). Having said that, I think there’s a lot to be said for keeping race plans simple, and mine certainly was…..
The two remaining climbs up Buckden Pike and Great Whernside went well. My legs felt pretty shot on the steep sections but that was to be expected. On the gentler gradients, flatw and downhills they remained fast and didn’t let me down. There were plenty of ankle rolls, trips (x4) and bog wipeouts, but they are all part and parcel of running fast on this kind of terrain. They were quite funny really, one or two fairly spectacular.
Off Great Whernside I started to wind the pace up and realised I was close to record pace. It was however finely balanced and difficult to factor in the fast terrain of the last six miles, in terms of whether I really could pull it off or not.
It was only when I reached the final checkpoint at Yarnbury that realised the record really was on. The checkpoint staff did as well; they were excited and encouraging. The last section was a gradual downhill on the road back to Threshfield and I guess I was probably running c.6min/mile pace down there - very enjoyable - and there is nothing more motivating than the knowledge that the faster you run, the more you will take off the record.
Approaching Yarnbury, on the home straight
I arrived back through the door of the school with a finishing time of 10h 06 mins taking several minutes off the previous record, on a course which was generally felt to be slightly longer. It had been a really enjoyable and satisfying day out, but most importantly I was back in one piece.
Coming away from the race I was pleased with the time on what is a technical and tough course, and one that is not really conducive to quick running. My legs had the pace when they needed to and dealt with the hills with relative ease. Great for confidence heading into Western States.
The final words must be of thanks to the wonderful volunteers and organisers of the event who work tirelessly throughout the year to keep the Fellsman going. It is brilliant to see the event going through a renaissance in recent years and given how successful this year’s event was, I can only see than continuing.
Next stop: California :o)
Wednesday, 4 May 2011
UKA Ultra Trail Championships/ Scottish Ultra Trail Championships/ GB Ultra Trail Team Qualifier.
The way the race panned out is simple to report. I was part of a lead group of three for the first 23 odd miles – which included Andrew and Stuart Mills. Stuart’s tactics were fairly indiscreet (which I am sure he will be the first to admit), to run shoulder to shoulder with me for as long as possible. But when Stuart dropped off the pace, it was a simple partnership with Andrew who I had not met or run with before. I felt the pace dropped off a bit along Lomond-side, but I think it had to after the smoky fast first 19 miles to Balmaha. The heat was a big challenge, rising steadily over the course of the day. Despite a coolish breeze, the many sheltered sections of trail made it feel roasting, and there was no respite from cloud cover whatsoever. I knew it was getting a bit warm for me when all I could think about was jumping in Loch Lomond for a decent cool off – I just about managed to resist. Conditions reminded me a bit of Western States/ California – dusty, tinder dry, beautiful single track trail, crystal clear blue skies, and that wonderful scent of pine and timber through the woods. Quite pleasant had it not been for the extreme effort we were putting in.
If it hadn’t been for the high temperatures, I suspect we would have been running faster still, but it was a case of just trying to block it out, and to keep moving at a decent pace section after section. The trail was certainly very busy which also kept us on our toes. And not just from the couple of hundred early race starters who we had to overtake, also big groups of West Highland Way trekkers who were understandably making the best of the stunning spring weather. I was just sorry to be semi-forcefully coming past them all. I shouted ahead to forewarn everyone, and gave my sincerest thanks, but it was a tricky operation in the many narrow sections of trail.
After an enjoyable stint running with Andrew in which we both had our moments, him taking a couple of impressive tumbles, me acquainting myself with the bushes, we got to the top of Loch Lomond and the Beinglas checkpoint (40.6 miles) pretty much at the same time. I realised this could well be a critical moment of the race, and so it proved to be. He moved through very quickly, not appearing to take much of a water re-supply. I decided to do things properly knowing there was still a tough 12 mile section ahead, and left with a litre-and-a-half of liquid in two handhelds and a waste pack bottle, as well as taking the opportunity for a good dousing courtesy of the kind checkpoint staff. Andrew upped the pace and flew off up the climb towards Derrydaroch, to which I admittedly didn’t have a reply. I was still running well, but not with any spring to keep up. Andrew steadily moved away and was pretty much out of sight by the woods above Crianlarich. I figured he had a 4-5minute lead at this point. With only a handful of miles left to the finish, I thought he probably had a 80% chance of finishing it off for an impressive win. My only hope was a spectacular blow-up, or a navigational error, neither of which prevailed in the end. I picked up and was gaining on him in the last few miles, but I had run out of trail and he finished three minutes ahead. He was a worthy victor and winner of the UKA title as well as a nice course record.
Once again my sincerest thanks go to Ellen, Murdo and Tim who have created a brilliant race in the space of just six years. It’s a true runner’s race; all beautifully thought out and organised, and one which thoroughly deserves its undoubted success. You only had to be there at the finish line this year, seeing all the smiling runners and supporters enjoying the Highland setting and sunshine, to know what I mean. See you next year.
Next up – the Fellsman a week on Saturday. Eeeek!
Friday, 7 January 2011
I was going to write a full 2010 review but it will probably be Christmas 2011 before I get round to it, so here's the best of 2010 in pictures.
Happy New Year everyone. Here's to more great running adventures in 2011......
Wednesday, 5 January 2011
The conditions were probably best described as arctic. The ground was deep frozen from what seemed like weeks of sub-zero temperatures, a thick blanket of dry powdery snow covered the valleys and temperatures for the duration of the run ranged between -10°C and -5°C. Lovely.
In the days leading up to the run I was impressed by Matt's unfaltering commitment to give it a go, no matter how snowy, cold and downright unappealing the prospect of running 50 miles around Shropshire three days before Christmas Day was. Good lad. Or perhaps that's a symptom of having two young kids?
The alarm went at 2.50am, I got to Matt's for just after 4am and we were togged up ready to start the run at about just before 6am - an hour behind schedule already. Kit choice would be vital and could have been a drawn out process in itself had it not been for the -10°C temperature as we fumbled through our kit bags in the boot of Matt’s car parked in sleepy Church Stretton, a lovely town nestled in the Shropshire Hills. I went for a pair of tights, windstopper bottoms (by TNF of course, turning out to be a legendary piece of kit), two base layers, a Gore-Tex paclite shell, ski mitts, a buff and three beanies. Footwear was a pair of Singletracks and one pair of socks. I also carried a spare base layer and spare pair of socks, but we had to stay fast and light so it was minimal, and if it went horribly wrong we would still need to keep moving.
In summary, the route is a well established classic: a 50 mile figure-of-eight route over the rugged countryside of South Shropshire and the Welsh Marches, with about 8,000 feet of climbing covering eight summits. Statistically it's fairly tame, but the trails constantly undulate making it impossible to settle in to any rhythm. I always find it’s niggly tough and a solid challenge even in good weather.
Within a mile we were into the first hill, Caer Caradoc, which was horrible. One step forward, half a step back; frozen ground and slippery powdery snow made the steep climb difficult. Cue worries about a long day ahead and me openly stating that we could cut the route short to preserve pub time in the evening. Priorities hey. Freezing fog was another big problem and if we hadn't been on that hill dozens of times before, navigation would have been impossible. But the top's the top and we found it in the end, as well as the descent route for our first spell of foot skiing.
Once we dropped down out of the freezing fog, it was actually the last we saw of it all day. And after that hill, I had no further question marks over our ability to complete the whole route. We got warm, stayed warm, and didn't ever stop longer enough to get cold. That was the trick really – keep moving. The only point we both felt a bit on the edge of being too cold was across Stiperstones ridge with the cold northerly wind coming straight at us. But at that point I just donned all three beanies, sealed myself up in my hood and battled on.
Navigation could have been tricky, particularly as Matt dropped his carefully marked up map somewhere on Stiperstones (not very good as a D of E instructor), but luckily we managed to stay on track almost perfectly all the way round despite the white blanket.
We carried all our provisions for the day in our packs except fluids which required a replen at the shop next to the Stiperstones Inn. The biggest issue was keeping the food and drinks at a suitable temperature to consume, with the tendency being for them to freeze. Matt had a few problems with frozen pipes and bottles.
And the knowledgeable local runner we met outside the Stiperstones Inn who tried to recruit us for the Devils Chair fell race on Boxing day was of course right, his prediction that we would finish before last light was spot on. We got back to Church Stretton just before 4.30pm with no need for the headtorches to come back out again. Our time for the full route was just under 10 hours 30 mins. We were pretty pleased to have got round, and to have run it self sufficiently in such a time. The winning time for the annual October race is just over 8 hours, so more than respectable on that basis.
And of course, the fast time meant we were showered, changed and down the pub in good time to make a proper evening of it. Well, maybe if we hadn’t been quite so knackered.
It begs the question what next year’s jaunt will bring?!…..